28th December
City Ground


Mr W. Jordan

Goal One
Harewood 81 min

Birmingham City
Beasant     Poole
Dawson     Rowett
Hjelde     Grainger
Doig     Hughes
Gray   Hyde
Prutton     O'Connor
Bart-Williams     Adebola
Johnson   Charlton
Brennan     Johnson
John Bass
Harewood   Marcello
Substitutes     Substitutes
Crossley     Bennett
Cooper   Holdsworth
Freedman     Purse
Williams   Holland
Quashie   Gill

Stern John Bart -Williams
Bart -Williams
Kevin dawson

It was good to meet Bridport after the match, in fact it was good to meet anyone after my Christmas bout of Flu...... all say Ah!

Do you ever get those moments when you think you might perhaps have over-indulged at Christmas? Driving into Nottingham listening to the radio, hearing Andy Caddick take three wickets in one over to reduce South Africa to 94-8, and then finding a queue stretching well out of the car park behind the main stand and the kick-off delayed by 15 minutes because of crowd congestion.... Good Lord - what's going on? Is this the Forest I know and love, or has all that claret warped my brain for ever? So all my pre-christmas stuff about big holiday crowds came true - almost 21,000 in today, the biggest crowd at the City Ground this season. For the first half, though, there was a curious lack of atmosphere both on and off the pitch.

We kept the same side as on Tuesday at Blackburn except for Kevin Dawson in for Riccy Scimeca, who has flu. Take away the Grand Old Man of the Gloves in goal and we are starting to have a seriously young side here. (No, on second thoughts, don't take Mr Beasant away; he's playing well). But both sides, though playing tidily enough, were rather lacking in penetration in the final third and apparently lacking in urgency.

It wasn't rubbish, because there was some neat football being played in midfield, but it was hardly riveting either. I can honestly not think of a great deal to mention, other than a few good runs down the right from Andy Gray (consistently beating people in the dribble today and continuing his recent good form) and some promising breaks down the left involving Marlon and Jim Brennan. Nothing serious came of any of these attacks, though, and neither Lurch nor Kevin Poole in the Blues' goal had a difficult save to make.
Probably the closest to a goal was a Jon Hjelde header narrowly over from a corner (and can ANYONE think of when Forest last scored from a corner? Cos I sure can't!).

So a quiet, stodgy first half, verging on the moribund (but, as ever, I despair of the fans who booed them off at half time). Things livened up considerably after half time, though. The tone was set almost straight from the kick-off; within the first five minutes of the half Marlon had broken free and shot just over, Bart had battled a half break out of their left back and put a beautiful cross onto Stern's head and inches over, and Johnno had shot powerfully wide from the edge of the box. Johnno, Bart and Prutton were starting to wrestle the midfield from the abrasive O'Connor, Beasant was commanding his box and orchestrating the starts of things from the back with his distribution and Marlon was putting himself about and making a thorough nuisance of himself. The Blues were not over-run, by any means. They had some dangerous attacks on the break, but Adebola and Marcello were admirably handled by the back three (I thought Doig the best at Blackburn and he and Dawson were again sound today, but Hjelde had an immense game) and Beasant was commanding in catching high crosses under pressure.

I am not sure what has happened to Bart, but he looks a different player from the slow underconfident shadow we saw at Palace and other places. Perhaps he is better when playing with two strong runners and pressers like Prutton and Johnson alongside him - they give him a bit more time and he can play those raking long balls to the wings. In this midfield he looks a dangerous, classy stroller. Four weeks ago he looked a slow underachiever. Good on yer, Bart, for the turn around.

As for Prutton, it has been bugging me gently for weeks who exactly he reminds me of. I have heard people mention the young Roy Keane, but though he has a similar bite in the tackle I don't think that is it. Today the penny finally dropped - for me he is like the young Steve Hodge (and that is a high compliment). Whoever he might remind us of, his arrival has been one of this season's real plus points. From being drafted into the side in emergency a mere 3 months ago (Sep 22 at Bristol City, to be precise) he has now reached the stage where you can't picture the team without him.

For the first time I heard him get favourable mention on national radio today, as well. Expect streams of untrue stories of how he is off to Chelsea/Villa/Liverpool/etc shortly (are you listening, Teamtalk?). But it was the third member of the midfield who finally unlocked Birmingham with ten minutes left. Bart and Brennan won a hard scrap for the ball deep in our half on the left, Johnno picked it up and curled a wonderful pass 30 yards over the advancing Brum backline and into Marlon's path. If I am honest I thought Marlon was just offside (and certainly Ian Bowyer and Trevor Francis thought so to judge by their reactions - welcome back, Bomber and Trev, by the way), but the linesman didn't - and after costly dodgy decisions going against us at WBA, Barnsley and Blackburn (amongst others) I suppose we deserved a bit of luck.

Marlon took the ball on at pace, drew the keeper and rammed the ball into the far corner. He never looked like missing it, which is not something you can always say about our Marlon! After a good game at Blackburn he played well again today and, on this week's showing, deserves a run in the team. Not perfect - he still tends to play with his head down and ought to have set Stern up with a sitter instead of shooting himself from a narrow angle a few minutes before the goal. But still a pain in the neck for defenders, hard working, quick and willing.

My man of the match today, and worthily keeping Dougie out of the side. Brum came on strong for the final ten minutes in search of an equaliser and for the first time our defence looked a bit wobbly. Kevin Dawson and Chris Doig were both a bit guilty of playing too much football when the old-fashioned hoof into the crowd would have been better, but I would rather be criticising our young players for trying to be too subtle and playing too much fancy stuff close to their own area than watching them launch hoof after hoof over the stand and up the middle. It's just that there is a time and a place! For all that, there was only one serious heart in mouth moment, when Lurch produced an excellent low save to his right to keep out Simon Charlton in the last minute.

So, a decent win, a good second half performance and three valuable points to move us up a couple of places to 17th. More importantly, in my view, we continue to play well with a settled side and to gain in confidence - that is now 5 games on the trot where I have been able to say that. Put it this way; Blackburn were doing even worse than us about 6 weeks ago. They are now in 7th position, admittedly 4 points behind the team in 6th... and only 8 points above us. A run now and you never know - but even if we don't get up there, we are going the right way. I was also much struck with the reaction of the players at the final whistle; there is some team spirit developing here.


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